LOS ANGELES – California regulators reacting to the deadly wreck of a
commuter train issued an emergency order Thursday banning train
operators from using cell phones on duty.
The Public Utilities Commission’s unanimous decision to pass the
temporary order came a day after investigators confirmed that the engineer of
the Metrolink commuter train was text-messaging while on duty on the
day the train ran a red light and collided head-on with a Union Pacific
freight train. Last week’s wreck in Los Angeles killed 25 people,
including the engineer, and injured more than 130.
Some railroads — including Metrolink — prohibit operators from using
cell phones on the job, but the commission’s president, Michael R.
Peevey, has said the rules are widely ignored. There is no federal regulation
of cell-phone use by railroad workers and until Thursday there had
been no California rules.
Richard Clark, the commission’s director of consumer protection and
safety, said the use of cell phones was “implicated” in two earlier
accidents this year involving other rail systems, but he declined to comment
on its specific role in either case until the investigations are
Under the new order the board approved in San Francisco, violators
could be fined up to $20,000 per violation or have their operations shut
“Today’s action will protect the public,” Peevey said. “What we’re
doing today is just a modest first step in a much larger effort to improve
The National Transportation Safety Board requested the cell phone
records of engineer Robert Sanchez after two teenage train fans said they
exchanged text messages with him shortly before the crash Friday in the
San Fernando Valley neighborhood of Chatsworth.